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Alumni Achievement Award

Founder/CEO, the Royal Law Firm

Amy Royal

Amy Royal

Amy Royal is a big believer in that old adage — the one about how if you want something done, give that task to a busy person.

“I’ve seen that happen so much over the course of my career,” she told BusinessWest. “Those busy people — they just make it happen. They’ll return things very quickly; they get things done, and done right.”

For quite some time now, Royal, founder and CEO of the Springfield-based Royal Law Firm, has been the very definition of that proverbial busy person — and that’s probably why people keep asking her to do things, with ‘people’ meaning everything from legal clients to area nonprofits to those running the Springfield Ballers (more on them later).

Indeed, Royal is busy with all kinds of things these days, and the sum of this work inside and outside the office (and on her new office) certainly helps to explain why she is a finalist for the Alumni Achievement Award in 2022.

Let’s start with the office. Back in 2009, when Royal was honored as a member of the third 40 Under Forty class, she was busy putting the law firm she established on a path to consistent, diverse growth. To say that she has succeeded with that assignment would be an understatement.

Indeed, the firm has grown in size — it now boasts a team of 11 — while also greatly expanding its book of business, its geographic footprint, and its service areas.

When the firm was launched, it was focused exclusively on representing employers in labor and employment law matters. It still does a lot of that, but it has pushed into other areas of the law, as Royal explained.

“It was a long time coming before I decided to expand beyond that; we still only represent organizations, but now we do it in other practice areas beyond where we started,” she explained. “I’m representing Merck Corp. in federal court here in a products-liability claim; my litigation has expanded beyond labor and employment law to commercial litigation generally.”

Merck is just one of many national and international clients in the firm’s portfolio. Others include Google, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Macy’s, Panasonic Corp. of North America, and KeyBank.

As for geographic expansion, the firm now has satellite offices in Hartford, Providence, and Bennington, Vt. (the latest facility to open), and Royal has ambitious plans to soon be in all six New England states.

And her entrepreneurial exploits extend beyond her law firm. Indeed, she has been involved in many other business ventures, including the purchase and subsequent expansion of West Side Metal Door Corp., a distributor and fabricator of metal doors and frames. There have been several real estate development projects, the latest being her purchase of the historic Alexander House, just down the street from the federal courthouse.

Royal is in the process of restoring the 6,000-square-foot home, built in 1811, and relocating the law firm’s headquarters there.

Meanwhile, Royal has long been busy outside the office, donating her time and talents to several nonprofits, especially the Center for Human Development. She has served on its board for more than 14 years, and is currently its president. She has also served on other boards, including serving as president of United Way of Hampshire County.

She has also coached many youth sports, from basketball to baseball, and created the 501c3 corporation for the Springfield Ballers, a nonprofit providing opportunities to young people in athletic programs. She serves as clerk of the Ballers board, and has been involved in writing grants to attain the funds to create more opportunities for more young people.

“We serve more than 400 kids in the Greater Springfield area in sports like basketball, both boys and girls, lacrosse, golf, and others,” Royal explained, adding that the initiative started as a girls’ basketball league and has expanded and evolved “massively from there.”

This is a volunteer operation, she went on, where those involved often wear many hats, as she does. She was asked to coach this year, as she has many times in the past, but had to decline — for a good reason.

“This is probably my older son’s last season in AAU, so I really want to watch him play basketball,” she said, adding that this is one example of how she works to balance the many priorities in her life.

When asked where she finds the time for all that she does and is asked to do, Royal said she makes it, because each aspect of her life is important to her — her family, her law career, and her many commitments to this region, which is her life-long home.

“I grew up here, and I care about the community and see that as something that is really important,” she said. “It’s something that both my parents were involved in; they made it a priority, and I’m simply following their example.”

In doing so, she has certainly become one of those busy people from that old adage that others entrust with important tasks — and a finalist for the Alumni Achievement Award.

 

George O’Brien

Alumni Achievement Award

President and Co-founder of the Gleason Johndrow Companies

Anthony Gleason II

Anthony Gleason II

 

You might call it the ‘snowball effect.’

That’s one poetic way to describe what has happened since Anthony Gleason started his own landscaping business when he was 16, and especially since he was honored as a member of the Forty Under 40 Class of 2010.

Things have… well, snowballed. And in all kinds of ways.

The landscaping company he started with a $1,500 pickup truck and a lawnmower has grown into one of the largest snow-removal contractors in the country — the 32nd largest to be exact, at least according to the latest rankings in Snow Magazine, with more than $10 million in revenues in 2021. It now boasts a number of large contracts including the city of Springfield (250 locations), UMass Amherst and its 157 parking lots of various shapes and sizes, Western New England University, and many others, and has extended its geographic reach well beyond Western Mass.

“We’re servicing the entire state of Massachusetts — we’ll go out to Worcester and Boston — and go south into Hartford,” he told BusinessWest. “We just keep trying to grow wherever we can with the kind of work that makes sense.”

Meanwhile, the real estate portfolios of the many companies he’s now involved with continue to grow. The combined portfolio now boasts properties valued at more than $25 million, he said, and it includes office, industrial, self-storage, and other properties.

“We’re servicing the entire state of Massachusetts — we’ll go out to Worcester and Boston — and go south into Hartford. We just keep trying to grow wherever we can with the kind of work that makes sense.”

And Gleason’s involvement in the community — both on a personal and company-wide scale — continues to snowball as well, especially in Springfield. Indeed, both Gleason personally and Gleason Johndrow Landscaping have become huge supporters of the Spirit of Springfield, as both a sponsor and with in-kind donations, as we’ll see, but his work to give back extends well beyond the SOS to several other causes and organizations.

To sum it all up, Gleason, 36, who was also a finalist for the AAA award in 2019, travels back in time to when he was just getting started with that pick up truck while still in high school.

“I started with a few accounts … and I just went after it,” he said, adding that this is the mindset that has propelled his landscaping company — and many other business interests — forward, making it a force not only within its highly competitive industry, but within the community as well.

As he talked about his landscaping company and its status among the largest and most successful in the country, Gleason said it is well-positioned within that competitive market. It is large enough — with 150 employees and more than 75 vehicles — to handle the needs of large-scale clients like the city of Springfield and UMass Amherst, but also nimble enough to handle assignments of any size.

“Snow services is our largest offering and it’s what I think sets us apart,” he explained. “I do believe we’re really good at it, and we’re well-equipped. We’re going to continue to grow, but we’re going to try to do it modestly and do it the right way, with the accounts that make sense for our business model.”

With all this success in business comes a responsibility to give back, said Gleason, and he does this in many ways, perhaps most notably, and visibly, with the Spirit of Springfield and its many endeavors.

Since 2015, Gleason Johndrow Landscaping has been heavily involved with the SOS’s annual pancake breakfast, touted as the largest in the world. A team of 20 from the company provides help with logistics and operations — everything from loading batter onto a refrigerated truck to dispensing supplies to three cooking tents and 10 beverage stations.

Starting that same year, the company has been a sponsor of Bright Nights at Forest Park’s ‘Happy Holidays Springfield’ display. In 2017, the company was the lead sponsor, and Gleason the co-chair, of the City of Bright Nights Ball, the SOS’s largest annual fundraiser. In the years that have followed, it has supported the gala as a Golden Circle Sponsor.

But, as noted earlier, Gleason and the company have given back in many other ways as well. Examples include the donation of labor and resources to Southampton’s Norris Elementary School playground project, support for the Gunnery Sergeant Thomas J. Sullivan Park in Springfield, and ongoing support to a host of agencies, including Empty Arms Bereavement, the Mayflower Marathon, Springfield Cultural Council, Susan G. Komen Foundation, and many others.

While doing all this, Gleason has become an inspiration, role-model, and cheerleader of sorts for employees and others in the community, said Judy Matt, president of the Spirit of Springfield, who is one of many who nominated Gleason for the AAA award.

“He continues to inspire others by meeting with employees, colleagues, and friends to assist them with personal financial management, budgeting, and retirement investments,” she wrote. “He has encouraged employees to purchase homes or multi-family buildings, and often has helped them reach their goals of home ownership. He is always willing to donate his time and knowledge and to share his story of success so that others can achieve even greater accomplishments; this has been one of his main objectives throughout his career.”

You might say this objective is just part of the snow-ball effect, a success story that has many chapters still to be written.

 

George O’Brien

Alumni Achievement Award

Associate Professor of Accounting and Finances, Director of the MBA Program, Elms College

Amanda Garcia

Amanda Garcia

Amanda Garcia has some simple advice for those she counsels in the Entrepreneurship program at Elms College — and pretty much everyone else she mentors at one level or another.

“I tell them not to be afraid to fail, and that you can learn from failure,” Garcia, now a repeat finalist for the Alumni Achievement Award, told BusinessWest. “A lot of times as an entrepreneur, whatever you start with is not what you end up with. So I encourage the students to understand that failure is OK — just learn from the failure and figure out what you can do better next time.”

And this is advice that extends to all those in business, she went on, not simply those who happen to own the business.

“If you’re too afraid to fail at something, you’ll never take the risk to start something new,” she explained. “A new program, a new initiative … any of that is a risk, because you’re putting your name on it, and sometimes things don’t go well.”

Suffice it to say that Garcia practices what she preaches, and that simple philosophy helps explain why she is again a finalist for the AAA award. Indeed, she has demonstrated several times that she is not afraid to fail, taking on new career challenges, new initiatives in the realm of higher education, and even her own entrepreneurial venture, an accounting firm that bears her name.

Most all of that has occurred since she was honored as a member of the 40 Under Forty Class of 2010. At that time, she was vice president of Operations for Junior Achievement of Western MA. And while she’s still heavily involved in JA, as we’ll see later, she has shifted her career path from the nonprofit realm to higher education.

“If you’re too afraid to fail at something, you’ll never take the risk to start something new. A new program, a new initiative … any of that is a risk, because you’re putting your name on it, and sometimes things don’t go well.”

At Elms College, where she started as lecturer in Accounting, she is currently an associate professor of Accounting and Finances and interim director of the MBA program, which she co-founded in 2012. Since then, she’s helped grow that program to include graduate degrees in several areas, including Accounting, Financial Planning, Healthcare Leadership, Management, and many others.

Meanwhile, Garcia helped launch the Entrepreneurship program at the school, and currently oversees that initiative and is co-director of the First-year Seminar and Innovation Challenge for students in that program.

Explaining that initiative, she said it is aptly named — students are placed into teams that are challenged with conceptualizing a product and service and pitching it in a competition that earns the winners some capital to take their venture forward.

“Students learn about design thinking, they learn how to pitch, they learn about innovation and how to tackle big problems that seem to have no answer,” she explained, adding that as an advisor and leader of the program, she also teaches them how to work in teams and be a good team member.

As for those big problems with no answers, she said that over the years, teams have addressed some of them with imagination, determination, and solutions in various phases of development.

“Last year’s winner pitched a roommate-matching app where the students would design the surveys to determine what is important to them in a roommate,” she explained, noting the importance of such a service. “A bad roommate is the number-one reason for a student leaving college or not living on campus.”

As for her own entrepreneurial venture, Amanda Garcia, LLC, launched in 2008, she has grown it from a sole proprietorship to three employees. It specializes in small business, rental properties, and tax planning for individuals with investments.

While the many aspects of her work keep her busy, she makes time for giving back to the community, especially Junior Achievement.

Indeed, she still has strong ties to the organization, serving as its accountant, co-chair of its annual golf tournament, a JA volunteer, and chair of the JA EnTEENpreneur Challenge, where, again, she is helping young people develop ideas and begin the process of transforming them into businesses.

Summing up all that she does, as a college professor, an accountant, and as a JA volunteer, Garcia said she is educating people and helping them succeed, as she has, in business and in life. It’s a role she takes very seriously, said Jennifer Connolly, president of Junior Achievement of Western MA, who nominated Garcia for the AAA award.

“Over the years, Amanda has helped dozens of area students and their families navigate applying for college, and then mentored those students through their college years,” she said. “She maintains close contact with many of her students after graduation, mentoring them as they navigate the world of work. She gives of herself, her time, and her money to support many organizations in the area.”

Overall, Garcia doesn’t have much direct experience with failure, so she can’t exactly speak from experience there. But she has considerable experience when it comes to overcoming fear of failure and accepting new challenges — on the job, with her business, and with everything that life can throw at someone.

Helping people overcome that fear and reach higher is just one of the ways she is making an impact in the region. And it’s just one of many reasons why she is a finalist for the Alumni Achievement Award.

 

George O’Brien

 

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